Never,' Marissa asked him, clutching the thin green sheet that normally covered her bed to her practically flat chest. 'Not even when you were a boy?'
'I keep forgettin how young you are,' the man they called Brock sighed goodnaturedly and pinched the bridge of his nose. The bitemark his bedfellow undoubtedly left on his shoulder had started to sting, but there was a pleasant soreness between his legs. 'It was a different time, Siren. I was a different guy then, and not the kind that ran around fallin in love.' He ran his fingers through her shiny black hair like the horrible void that surrounded the ship, that had become a fact of his life. Marissa laid her head on his chest and he felt her body relax as she drifted to sleep. They were broken people, just trying to put themselves back together and the night they finally realised that they were just as messed up as each other, they had collided and continued to do so in the quiet hours of a sleep cycle with only the void as witness. Years ago the Void had meant freedom for him. No more fighting to survive but he found a whole new set of monsters to battle once his thoughts were turned inward.
Loren had laid a hand on his chest one night, before the jungle tore itself down and rebuilt into something completely new that had no place for him.
'Who are you going to put in there then,' she had asked in her sad and hopeful way.
'Aint nobody in there,' he lied, 'you know that.'he could still see the devastated horror on her face when he had left her for the last time.
There had been one, but the man they now called Brock was adept at omitting the truth. He could excuse it to Marissa, Banner and the Captain James, thinking he was a different person with a different name back then. Not Brock Draper who had been registered at birth and cared for enough to be educated. No, Jonny had no last name- no mother, no education, no fixed abode. Calais the XO sometimes stared at him for so long he was sure she knew. Xan, their pilot, in all their camaraderie had never talked too much about who they were outside of the crew of the Gravitas.
He hadn't ever been too concerned about the kind of person he was. He was striving to be useful so the fall of civilisation wouldn't swallow him up when it came. And it was coming, Loren talked about it constantly these days and he saw more and more Core Order in places that they had left to wreck and ruin normally.
He had been dragged into a shabby little house by two of Draper's men. His head hit the threadbare arm of a couch and he continued to drift in and out of consciousness, only half aware of the people around him and the hole in his shoulder. It was the first time he'd been shot and all he could focus on was how he had possibly fucked up the job so bad that all this fuss to patch him up was just so Draper would have to pleasure of disposing of him personally. He felt a pressure then a raw ripping feeling, something wet spilled onto his arm and he could smell something light and feminine around him. He may have haullicinated the soft brush of hair against his now naked torso.
When he finally came to the sun was shining through the plastic net curtains and he could hear his friend Bail somewhere in the distance and a voice that was soft and fluttery like the feathers bigger animals left behind after they slaughtered a pigeon. Finally he stirred, smelling some imitation of coffee and wanting it so desperately in that moment. He opened his eyes reluctantly, expecting the barrel of a gun to be the first and last thing he saw on this day.
'You're up,' Jonny heard Bail exclaim with more relief and affection than was right in a man's voice. The familiar visage slowly focused and he saw him sat on the low table next to the couch, which now sported a huge blood stain. Jonny tried to get up but found he was stuck to the said stain.
'Don't move,' the feather voice ordered in a meek but authoritative way. She was behind but he could feel her cool, small hands on his good shoulder as they both helped him to a sitting position. Once he was sat upright, someone pressed a hot plastic mug in his hands and he smelled the steam rising off of it. It wasn't the pleasant nutty smell of the coffee but a stinging acidic, mixed with something heavily medicinal.
'It'll heal you,' she told him. It was then he could look at her face. She was younger than she sounded, he thought. Her skin was pale and unblemished unlike so many people on Universal Allowance. The fortified rice and other foodstuffs made them break out horribly. So much so you could tell who was on it by just looking at their faces. Her green eyes were clear of any drug haze unlike the other women in Draper's employ. There was a fierce intelligence there and a long suffering sadness too.
'Smells like it'll kill me,' he countered taking a tentative sip. He made a face and nearly gagged on it.
'If I was going to kill you I would have done it by now,' She stated matter of factly.
'Well thanks kindly, uh,' he paused.
'They just call me Kitten, Bail says your name is Jonny. Your job went bad, got shot, bled all over my couch, I patched you up. Look at that you're up to date.' She didn't say it unkindly, but with a bit of what Jonny could swear was a giggle in her voice. 'Draper is waiting to hear how you are, I reckon he will want to come get you directly. You need a day to recover. So if you can keep a secret I can.' Bail and Kitten helped him on with a clean shirt. Her words had hard edges to them, all spike vowels and shortened consonants.
'Best get this execution over with,' Jonny started to reach for his boots which had been lined up at the bottom of the couch next to Bail's beat up trainers with their uneven soles, and a little pair of black flat shoes that he assumed were hers.
'He's got another job for you,' Kitten informed him, ' a collection of debt. I've known him a long while and he doesn't trust dead men with debts.' She handed him the hand terminal Draper had given him and read the latest message. It was a gibberish arrangement of words meant to confuse Corder if they pulled up the records.
'Huh,' Jonny took another big gulp at whatever was in his mug.
He spent the day on the unstained side of her couch, staring at the feed and listening to the noises of Kitten going about her day. She brought a sickly looking woman twice her age into the kitchen and arranged a few bottles and gently explained instructions to her. There were others: a twitchy prostitute and an old man with sores on his face that went right up and over his bald head. He nodded to Jonny in a knowing way as he left. As the sun got lower and filtered through the front windows she sat down with a tired huff, not minding that she was sat on the now dried stain. Her weight bounced him around a bit and he winced.
'Sorry,' she said, getting up on her knees next to him and examining the wound under his bandages. 'You might live,' she joked.
'So you a dealer,' he asked her once she had settled to watch the feed.
'In a way I guess. I can make medicine in ways that doesn't involve the system. I don't have to go through the usual channels and can synthesize what people need but wouldn't have access to. That's how those guys you were with knew to bring you here. My Momma was a healer way down south on a land holding, she taught me this stuff about plants that grow in cities that can be used.'
True to her promise, Jonny was healed enough to undertake the job Brock had sent him the next day. He left before sunrise, peeking his head into the little room where Kitten slept before he left. She was barely covered in her pale pink sheet and at some point in the night she had discarded both of her pillows. He made a mental note that if they met again he would probably have to thank her for saving his life. That was what people did, right? They had breached the subject of payment as they silently ate across from each other at her imitation wood table.
'What is this going to cost me,' he asked abruptly, trying to motion to his shoulder. She looked up from her noodles and shrugged.
'I owed Bail a favor,' she answered simply. Jonny sometimes forgot that Bail cared what happened to him. More people in this world cared for him than he actually gave a shit about. He felt sorry for them.
'So we pick her up in three months when we stop off at Luna. We get four days stationside then ferry back out to Quixote Station,' Captain Donovan James was talking to him. More like deferring to Calais Obansanjo, the executive officer who just nodded imperceptibly as he spoke.
'Medic,' Brock asked again. He looked up from the flight plan on the screen in front of his chair. Marissa was punching something into a diagnostics panel. She caught his gaze and smiled her small lopsided grin at him.
'Fearless leader is insisting,' Xan Kasaab added with a chuckle. Juliet Banner, the navigator who rarely left the plump pilot's side laughed along with him, looming behind the pilot's seat with her eyes fixed on what was happening on the flight screen.
'You got it boss,' Brock got out of his chair with a clank of his mag boots and walked off toward the galley. He didn't normally need time to process change. When it happened to you as quickly as it had him, you barely had time to think or you were dead before you hit yes or no. He thought maybe the five years of flying with the Gravitas was making him too comfortable. Comfortable like a little house in a bad neighbourhood had been. He coughed a few times and rubbed his neck, sure one side of it was swollen.
'You okay,' Marissa asked from behind him, she must have followed him out. She still held her diagnostic panel in one arm, her flight suit pushed down to her waist and the arms tied in front of her. She was always so warm.
'Yeah, tip top Siren. Just haven't slept too well. Might need a cycle off,' he patted her bottom as he passed her.
That one cycle turned into three and from three it was a month. They still eyed each other hungrily from across the workshop and once in a while he'd press against her as they passed in a hallway. She had come to his room one night all he could do to stop his coughing fit was deny her entrance with a spluttered apology and a promise of a proper hotel room on the next non-UN base they hit. The rich girl in Marissa loved to hole up in an expensive room and have a three day long session. He smiled, thinking he had never had so much fun when sex was involved.
No, he had never had that much fun during sex. It had been business when he was young, too young by some standards. Then it had been a matter of life and death: food, money, medicine- it was all gotten that way. Then sometimes it was a matter of life and death in a different way. In a way that your heart was going to explode right in your chest if you didn't get it. He liked it with Marissa because it wasn't heavy. It was light and fun, it could last hours or minutes and either way she was smiling at the end and he found himself smiling back at her.
Kitten was sat on the concrete steps outside of her house when he next visited. He hadn't had a job for a while and his shoulder was starting to affect his shooting. Bail had insisted he see her about it. He almost didn't want to disturb her, with her face tilted up toward a rare break in the cloud cover, her pale legs crossed at the ankle as she leaned back on her elbows. He cleared his throat to announce himself.
'Hey you,' she squinted at him and smiled brightly. 'Still alive I see.'
'Uh, yeah. Thanks to you I suppose,' he offered awkwardly. Gratitude was not his strong suit.
'Bail messaged me a while ago, you need soothers,' she got up and from where he was standing he could see up her skirt for a moment. A thin covering of cotton over her most private of areas. When her skirt fell back into place it didn't betray what it concealed. She lifted a heavy hank of black hair and an herbal smell wafted from it as she tied it into a knot at the top of her head. She gently took his hand and lead him inside.
'Sit,' she ordered pointing to a rickety chair at the table as she opened a a glass fronted cabinet. 'You can do three oral doses or I can inject you one time.'
'Inject me,' he started to roll up the sleeve of his shirt as she set a sealed needle and a jar of whatever she was going to administer on the table. She pulled a chair close to his exposed side and sat down. Jonny was a big guy, even malnutrition before Loren had found him had not hindered his growth, when he finally finished growing he topped out at six and a half feet. The cheap plastic chair groaned under his weight and he splayed his legs out in front of him, taking up a majority of the kitchen-turned-surgery. He watched her nimble hands perform the graceful and practiced movements of loading up the needle, shooting the bubble and wiping his arm with some cold liquid.
'Don't tense,' she whispered close to his ear as she slid the needle into his skin and depressed the plunger. The needle was out and she held a swab over the small puncture. As she held it in place she positioned herself in front of him, he could see a bead of sweat roll down her shirt and disappear between her breasts. He licked his lips as he stared at it. She must had been aware of his staring because she followed his gaze and angled herself away from him.
'I'm fifteen,' she said, trying to make it sound conversational, 'been on my own for a couple of years. What about you?' She dumped the used equipment into a red bag and shut it away in a cabinet.
'Nineteen,' he rolled his shirt down, still sweating. 'Been on my own since I can remember. My ma died when I was born.'
'Scary to think it still happens,' she handed him a cup of cool water. He drank greedily. The summers kept getting hotter and hotter, so much that some people said time on Earth was limited by the weather. All the rich people managed to get up to Luna for the hottest months, leaving people like them to swelter or die.
'You've done okay,' he waved his hand around the modest house. It was little more than three rooms and a small bathroom that he had unsuccessfully tried to get a shower in. But it didn't seem like she was on UA and she lived there.
A knock at the front door made both of their heads snap up. He noticed her eyes go wide.
'You expecting someone,' he asked. 'Customer or patient or whatever they are?' She shook her head no. He pulled a gun from the back of his pants and motioned for her to get behind him. She grabbed his good arm from behind. Her grip came from so low down he thought at first she was going to grab his ass.
'What are you going to shoot them,' she asked in a whisper, shock touching the corners of her voice. 'What if they're ill? What if they need help?'
Jonny shrugged with the gun and motioned silently for her to answer the knock.
'Yes,' she called loud enough to penetrate the door.
'It's Bail,' the voice said, 'it's gettin wild out here. Let me in!' Kitten undid the two locks and pressed her thumb against the pad on the center of the door. It released with a pop and Bail limped in (the result of a childhood beating that left his right arm withered and his opposite leg shorter), shutting it quickly and slumping against the back of it. 'It goes to shit out there doesn't it? Hey, found you,' he smiled at Jonny.
'Didn't know you were looking,' he said, sliding his gun back into the waistband of his pants. As his shirt rode up, Kitten could see the pale expanse of his back and let herself sigh a bit.
She liked him, his young-old boy she had patched up. His eyes were dark and flat like a gator' s but his smile was amiable. She bit her lip as her eyes travelled down his body and stopped herself when she realised one of them was talking to her.
'What,' she asked, gaze still fixed on Jonny.
'Ragmop, I heard him talking about coming to see you. It didn't sound like a friendly visit,' Bail answered.
'Like what,' Jonny asked loudly. 'What has she done? She ain't hurting anyone.' Bail all but stumbled back. He had met the older woman Jonny seemed attached to, Laura or something. He had shouted about keeping her taken care of if anything happened to him one night above gunfire and shattering glass. But his large friend never was under any illusion that she hadn't played her part in this underworld they found themselves a part in. He saw the way Jonny was standing, his torso angled toward her in the slightest way that would have been unnoticeable to anyone who didn't know him. It was the same way he stood next to him when they were on a job; he was protecting her.
'I-I...Oh fuckin hell,' she sat on the stained bit of the couch which had now faded to a rusty brown. She put her head in her hands but was not crying. 'Is there paper on me,' she asked after a long while.
'I can check,' Bail sat next to her and pulled out his deck. Jonny stood there awkwardly for a few minutes before going into the kitchen and getting her a cup of water. She smiled up at him and took it, their fingers brushing. His hand terminal chimed in his pocket. Draper sending Ragmop in never ended well for the recipient.
-Keep tabs on Kitten-
Shit. He'd just been given the job.
'They want her alive,' he told Bail. His friend just nodded back, waving his shriveled arm reflexively.
'What,' she asked looking between them. 'Oh God what are they going to do to me?' Her feathery voice was back, wavering to the point of tears. She knew what happened to the pretty orphans in Draper's employ. They only had one currency to deal in that interested the gangster.
'I think you know,' Bail told her sadly. She threw her glass against the far wall, it whizzed past Jonny's head and shattered. She stormed off to her bedroom and they both felt the little house shake as she slammed the door.
'Who's doing it,' Jonny asked.
'Ragmop it looks like,' Bail answered.
'Can you get her out?'
'That's not the problem. The problem is would she go. She thinks she's doing good work here. She likes to help people,' he gently rubbed his bad arm with a tender look on his face.
'She won't be doing anyone any good if they take her,' he said it because it was a fact. She would be taken, raped and subdued, then passed around until Draper found his debt paid. Until he was satisfied she had suffered for attempting to operate outside the system, as corrupt as it was. He had been witness to it; sometimes the girls died.
He knocked on her bedroom door softly, hoping she hadn't been stupid enough to slip out the window. No, she wasn't stupid.
'Can I come in,' he asked to the crack that had appeared. He knew from Loren that you ask to enter someone's bedroom, no matter who they were.
'I suppose,' came the answer as she stepped aside and let him into the tiny room. She sat back down on the bed. 'Did they send you then?'
'If they did I would have told you,' he said leaning against a small table with a mirror propped against it. 'I'm not smart enough to be coy.'
'No, you're too smart to be coy,' she corrected him. 'I got a message saying it was payment to stay here, in business so to say. Did you ever go through it?'
'In a way, yeah.'
'Does it hurt?'
'Do you want me to lie?'
'No,' she looked up at him and finally her calm composure wavered. Something happened in his chest, it clenched and he felt like he was going to vomit.